Following the Signs of the Times in Spokane
The Mission of the Sisters of Providence is imbedded in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and their motto, “The Love of Christ Impels us.” Constitutions #8 states: “the Mission calls each of us to discover Jesus Christ, especially in those who are suffering; to serve him through works of mercy, and to be a sign of hope and resurrection in today’s world.” The legacy of the Sisters of Providence in Spokane began in 1886. In their history they have tried to read the signs of the times and to address the unmet needs of the day.
Since they first arrived, the Sisters of Providence in the Pacific Northwest have cared for the sick and delivered services for the poor and vulnerable as the times demanded.
“Our Provident God is always drawing us forward to create something new – in some cases not without a bit of foot dragging and experience of loss!” Sister Annette Seubert said. “Yet Sisters of Providence are always invited by our God of change, to meet the unmet needs of our time by ‘moving’ and letting go into the future.”
In Spokane, where Sr. Annette is a local community leader, spiritual director, retreat leader and more, that “moving” is lived out quite literally in daily ministry and metaphorically as the sisters and staff reshape the more than 70-year-old Mount St. Joseph facility once again.
For years, Mount St. Joseph was the hub of St. Ignatius Province. Assembled through purchases and new construction, it has functioned as office space, infirmary/healthcare unit, chapel, sister’s residence, and guest rooms. Mount St. Joseph is now integrated into the Sacred Heart Medical Center campus and is adjacent to Emilie Court, an assisted living facility in which six sisters currently live
For the Sisters of Providence, says Sister Annette, Mount St. Joseph had been a welcoming home since it was built. When Mother Joseph Province Provincial Administration offices moved to Renton in 2008, this began a real grieving and letting go process for the sisters and staff of the former St. Ignatius Province.
Spokane, then known as Spokane Falls, is one of the places where Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and the early Sisters of Providence began their health care ministry in the Pacific Northwest. The sisters founded Sacred Heart Hospital in 1886 – paid for with gifts from miners, railroad workers, and others – for “the sick, poor, homeless and aged as well as orphaned children who didn’t have a home.”
Today’s Sacred Heart Medical Center is a central element in Providence St. Joseph Health system. Much of the reason for that, according to Sr. Kathryn “Kitsy” Rutan, who in 2002 became the first U.S. citizen to be General Superior of the congregation, is due to the leadership and collaborative style of Sr. Peter Claver Thomas, administrator of Sacred Heart Hospital from 1964 to 1989.
“Sr. Peter Claver was a leader in the city,” said Sr. Kitsy. “She saw to it that Sacred Heart participated in the community through her leadership and collaboration. In fact, the St. Ignatius Province was known for collaboration by establishing strong local boards at their hospitals.”
The collaboration and leadership resulted in a blossoming of Providence health ministries, eventually leading to the merging of Dominican Health Services with Providence in 1994 and the addition of three hospitals to the Providence system, explained Sr. Kitsy.
Through the years, many sister-nurses came to serve in the hospitals. One of the most instrumental contributions of the congregation to Spokane and the vicinity was the Sacred Heart School of Nursing, which operated from 1898 until 1973. The collaborative legacy lives on today, according to Sr. Kitsy, in the medical and scientific education still offered by Gonzaga University and other educational institutions in the University district of Spokane.
Education is another part of the legacy.
“When my class graduated from Seattle University,” recalls Sr. Rosalie Locati, “we were all nurses or teachers. Many of the hospitals and parishes had convents for the sisters.”
Although not running any schools in Spokane, the sisters operated a number of academies in Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington or taught in Spokane parish schools. That, however, began to shift in the 1970s as more lay people began teaching in the parish schools.
“The sisters went into other ministries and started earning other degrees and certifications,” said Sr. Rosalie.
For instance, after serving as nurses in the hospital some sisters transitioned to spiritual care. Initially sisters served in this capacity as visitors but eventually completed formal certification for Clinical Pastoral Care.
They also moved out into the community where access to good health care is not guaranteed. The sisters and Sacred Heart Hospital helped to start the Community Health Association of Spokane (CHAS) a clinic for low-income persons.
In the early 1980s the sisters collaborated with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia to establish Transitions ministry. The organization works to end poverty and homelessness for women and children in Spokane and has now grown into six distinct programs. The Sponsoring Members, as they are known, continue to support Transitions and collaborate with a board of volunteers to govern the ministry.
Today, the sisters also work with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington in housing, senior care and other ministries.
Generations of sisters will also remember the Novitiate for St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart and Holy Angels Provinces being moved from Seattle to Spokane in 1973. It operated from two houses on East Boone Avenue until the late 1980’s. After a short hiatus in Holy Angels Province, Edmonton, Canada, the Novitiate returned to Spokane in 1996 and was established at Nally House, which was owned by the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia. The formation program remained at Nally House for twenty years, closing in 2016.
Many sisters also hold fond memories of St. Joseph Nursing Home, founded in 1925. It was originally located on East Mission Avenue and currently operates across the street from Mount St. Joseph. All of the former sisters who served there are now deceased.
The current remodeling of Mount St. Joseph, owned by Providence Health Care (now Inland Northwest Washington region) enabled the Provincial Administration staff, religious community library and archives to relocate together on the third floor, explains Pam Hedquist, assistant archivist-technical and “project leader” for the move. This building also leases space and houses an adult residential care program operated by an outside organization.
“We are all feeling very blessed to be in our safe, comfortable and very familiar environment. Some of the sisters have come by to see the relocation of the library and our new spaces,” explains Pam.
Sr. Annette harkens back to the Constitutions of the Congregation as she ponders the legacy of the sisters in the Spokane area. The mission of the Congregation is “to proclaim Providence as the loving presence of God, active in us and through us, watchful over the created universe, and attentive to the needs of all. We also proclaim the compassion of our Mother of Sorrows, in her intimate participation in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. We live these mysteries primarily by our compassionate love of those who are poor.” (Constitution #7)
Today, employees, Providence Associates and Companions and staff, join the sisters in living out this mission.